What Lies Beneath - Body Confidence After Breast Cancer

14/08/2016 23:07 | Updated 14 August 2016
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Recently I have been preoccupied with what Kylie Minogue keeps in her bra. I suspect I am not alone, although my motives may be different to most. You see, until I lost a breast to cancer, I had only a passing interest in other women's tits - because I had a pair of my own. And tits are everywhere. There's even a new dating programme where partners are chosen from the gradual revelation of each naked body part. I am pleased that breasts of all shapes and sizes are celebrated and admired.

However, around 60,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, not all of those will have had mastectomies or surgery, but many will. Yet until I faced my own treatment I had never seen a mastectomy scar, a prosthesis, "softie" or reconstructed boob. So, on any street in any town, a small proportion of the women who pass you by will most likely be packing a prosthesis or reconstructed boob in their lingerie.

I recently posted pictures of my new prosthesis on social media and it caused a stir. My "selfie-esteem" was bolstered by "likes" and smiling emojis, but offline I was asked why I wanted to share something so personal and that maybe these things should be hidden away. I confess that when I get dressed I take care to cover my scar and ensure my prosthesis doesn't peep above my neckline. In fact I would feel highly embarrassed if I accidentally flashed my "falsie", but why should I? It seems to me that a random nipple flash is deemed less shocking than a slipped "softie", although perhaps Janet Jackson may choose to differ.

Anna Shaw recently invited me to her home for a colour analysis session. Anna is a stylist who has worked with celebrities and models but, since her mother's breast cancer diagnosis, she is working increasingly with people who are struggling to re-discover their style mojos after illness or surgery. I get that. Some months after my own surgery I was invited to a party in Mallorca. It was going to be a pool party and the dress code was "posh beachwear" - whatever the hell that means. Thanks to my recently missing mammary and the subsequent uninterrupted view of my belly, my body confidence was not at its height. Where once I might have gone into a tizzy over the fabulous shopping opportunities afforded by such an invitation, I was now preoccupied with finding something to wear that would hide my scar and lack of cleavage. For me, the party was a disaster. I was dressed like Mary Poppins whilst surrounded by plunging necklines. By the time all the women stripped off into their itsy bitsy, teeny weeny bikinis, I had slunk away to my hotel room for a weep. Anna tells me that many of her clients struggle to find the confidence to go out clothes shopping at all, and that's where she steps in to help.

For me, swimwear has become a particular challenge. I like to swim and I have a number of day-to-day sporty one-piece swimsuits that cover my parts both false and real. They are perfect for doing my lengths at the local pool. But on holiday they afford no opportunities at getting a tan. On a recent trip the weather was hot. Now I know a lady is not supposed to sweat, so let's just say I was glowing, but glowing like a menopausal pig. As the sweat made dainty rivulets down my body and between my chest and prosthesis, my once secure falsie lost some of its "stick" and started to slide toward less appropriate positions round and about my body. I became less busty and more bubonic. Undeterred I took myself off to the beach, my one-piece swimsuit packed in my bag. Unlike a bikini, in order to maintain a practical body temperature, a one-piece is less suited to wearing under clothing on such a hot day even if one hopes to throw off one's outer garments and jump into water at some point. Add to that the inconvenience of a shifting tit, one is inclined to stick to garments that keep false body parts firmly supported until ready for a swim. On arrival the water was inviting and I was eager to don my swimsuit and jump in. But I didn't. Pre-surgery I would have unselfconsciously changed in the open air, relying on speed of movement and fancy towel-work to mask any nakedness. That is no longer true. I could not change swiftly for fear of knocking my boob out of position or even losing it in the sand. I also realised that I was scared to bare my false booby for fear of children pointing, or my unnatural body part putting people off their picnics. And bold as I can be, I realised I did not have the courage to be the torch bearer for one breasted women. And so I didn't go for a swim.

Back home, scanty summer dress has fed my preoccupation with the contents of other women's bras - particularly of those women in the public eye who have had breast cancer. Have they been reconstructed? If so, do they have nipples? If not reconstructed, what is their falsie of choice? I have so many questions. Celebrity Instagram feeds show heaving cleavages but I have yet to spot a prosthesis poking above or below a sequinned crop top. These everyday objects are seldom seen. So I was delighted recently to find myself seated amongst a small group of strangers in a London park passing round softies, and prostheses. The woman baring and sharing her false bits was writer Claire Collison who, as part of a festival hosted at London's Somerset House, was leading a walk entitled "An Intimate Tour of Breasts". Herself a breast cancer "survivor" (oh how I hate that description but I have yet to conjure up a new one), Clare led an eager group of women on a walking tour exploring what she describes as " the mythologies and commodification of breasts throughout history to the present day". Taking in the Nell Gwynne Tavern, portraits in the National Gallery and the sex dens of Soho she also revealed the contents of her own bra.

I thank her.

But I do still wonder, what does Kylie keep in her bra?